The task is daunting with the opponent formidable, but Clovis West High volleyball coach Rhonda DeRuiter has been in this situation before.
In 1999, DeRuiter was in her first season as a head coach at Central Valley Christian. The Cavaliers had lost three regular-season matches to defending champion Immanuel, and, sure enough, ended up facing the Eagles again in the Division V final.
CVC would win a five-set match on Immanuel's home court for the title.
Now fast-forward 10 years.
Never miss a local story.
DeRuiter's second-seeded Golden Eagles face top-seeded Buchanan at 7 p.m. today in the Bears' hostile gym for the D-I championship.
That would be the very same Buchanan that topped Clovis West 21-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-19 and 25-21, 18-25, 26-24, 10-25, 15-11 earlier this season in Tri-River Athletic Conference matches.
"When you get to a game like Valley, all kinds of things can affect the outcome," DeRuiter said. "You never quit, you never say die. Anything can happen."
Despite Buchanan's two head-to-head wins, Bears coach Marian Battles knows that not much separates the Clovis Unified rivals, who are meeting for the first time in a section volleyball final.
Buchanan, at 26-5, has not lost to a team from the Central Section this season while chasing the program's eighth title. Clovis West, at 31-10, has only lost to the Bears in section matches while pursuing its second straight D-I crown.
Both teams have been battle tested against nationally ranked competition in tournaments this season.
"We are close in our weapons," Battles said. "It will come down to who executes best and who makes the best adjustments. We'll each have a new bag of tricks. No one comes into a Valley final without a few adjustments."
Clovis West let leads slip away during the second and third sets of the first meeting Oct 8, and couldn't hold on to the lead in the first, third and fifth sets of the rematch Oct. 27.
"We've been working on finishing," DeRuiter said. "That's something we haven't been able to do the first two times around. We've been right there, but we just couldn't finish. So that's been a real emphasis for us."
Buchanan made very few mistakes in the first two meetings, a trend Battles said must continue for her Bears to win their fourth title in five years.
"Each team is going to get their share of kills and aces, but for us, we have to minimize what we give away," Battles said. "And our transition game has to step up. [In a 3-0 semifinal victory over Bullard], we were pretty good in transition, and that can be overwhelming when you can be in transition and put the ball down."
In other Central Section finals:
- Division II: Top-seeded Frontier (29-9) and No. 2 Garces (26-9) meet again after splitting two earlier matches.
- Division III: In a reverse rematch of last year's final, won by Exeter, the second-seeded Monarchs (24-7) travel to No. 1 Tehachapi (28-4).
Exeter - which is seeking a fourth title during its fifth consecutive section final appearance -- is powered by Ashtyn Atkinson, Amanda Monge, Jessica Runyon and Tiffany Diaz, who all average more than 2.0 kills per set.
- Division IV: The senior trio of Alexandra Paredes, Brelle De Groot and Shelly Leyendekker -- who played in the D-V state championship as sophomores -- lead top-seeded CVC (29-3) versus third-seeded Chowchilla (22-6).
The Redskins topped No. 2 Immanuel 3-2 behind Elliana Diepersloot's 18 kills in the semis.